Models of benthic community dynamics for the extensively studied, shallow rocky ecosystems in eastern Canada emphasize kelp-urchin interactions. These models may bias the perception of factors and processes that structure communities, for they largely overlook the possible contribution of other seaweeds to ecosystem resilience. We examined the persistence of the annual, acidic (H2SO4), brown seaweed Desmarestia viridis in urchin barrens at two sites in Newfoundland (Canada) throughout an entire growth season (February to October). We also compared changes in epifaunal assemblages in D. viridis and other conspicuous canopy-forming seaweeds, the non-acidic conspecific Desmarestia aculeata and kelp Agarum clathratum. We show that D. viridis can form large canopies within the 2-to-8 m depth range that represent a transient community state termed “Desmarestia bed”. The annual resurgence of Desmarestia beds and continuous occurrence of D. aculeata and A. clathratum, create biological structure for major recruitment pulses in invertebrate and fish assemblages (e.g. from quasi-absent gastropods to >150 000 recruits kg−1D. viridis). Many of these pulses phase with temperature-driven mass release of acid to the environment and die-off in D. viridis. We demonstrate experimentally that the chemical makeup of D. viridis and A. clathratum helps retard urchin grazing compared to D. aculeata and the highly consumed kelp Alaria esculenta. In light of our findings and related studies, we propose fundamental changes to the study of community shifts in shallow, rocky ecosystems in eastern Canada. In particular, we advocate the need to regard certain canopy-forming seaweeds as structuring forces interfering with top-down processes, rather than simple prey for keystone grazers. We also propose a novel, empirical model of ecological interactions for D. viridis. Overall, our study underscores the importance of studying organisms together with cross-scale environmental variability to better understand the factors and processes that shape marine communities.